I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this winter has suuuuuuuuucked. It’s been an endless dumping of snow and ice, matched with days of near-apocalyptic cold. But the thaw is coming, and with it a whole new crop of live music to force you out of hibernation. Here’s a look at some of Madison’s spring music lineup:
Majestic Theatre, March 3
He may still be south of 30, but Jacob Banks has the voice of a 100-year-old man who has seen some shit. Armed with a commanding baritone, the British R&B singer takes control of every song he’s a part of. His solo debut, Village, is a showstopper. But the low-key Banks is happy to fly under the radar. For example, instead of having a much deserved album release party for Village, the 27-year-old chose to stay home, hang out with his two cats, and play FIFA. That’s some real rock star shit right there.
Majestic Theatre, March 5
Back in 1991, Scottish power pop masters Teenage Fanclub turned a lot of heads with their third album, Bandwagonesque. In fact, Spin named it their Album of the Year, ahead of Nirvana’s Nevermind. And while that may amount to heresy among certain alt-rock purists, it’s tantamount to the quiet talent the band has long possessed. They released their tenth album, Here, in 2016, and it shows that Teenage Fanclub has hardly lost a step (even if they are more of a Middle-Aged Fanclub now).
Communication, March 7
(Editor’s note: Julian Lynch has dropped off this show, which will continue on with JOBS, Jessica Pavone and Erik Kramer.) Madison resident Julian Lynch has a pretty great day job, playing guitar in acclaimed indie rock outfit Real Estate. But before he was playing alongside Martin Courtney and Co., Lynch was making genre-defying solo work, and he recently put out Rat’s Spit, his first solo album since joining the band. Inspired in equal part by foreign film scores and ’80s synth pop, Lynch is making music that’s without comparison. No wonder he’s a Ph.D candidate in ethnomusicology.
High Noon Saloon, March 8
If you’ve had your ear to the ground, you may have heard rumblings of a possible Fugazi reunion(!). But until anything concrete develops in that department, you’ll have to make due with its members’ other various projects. One is The Messthetics, featuring Fugazi’s rhythm section of drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally. They’re a pretty out-there instrumental trio (rounded out by guitarist Anthony Pirog) that embodies many of Fugazi’s weirder tendencies, albeit in a slightly less unhinged fashion. They released their self-titled debut in 2017.
Memorial Union Rathskeller, March 9
Ian Sweet is something of a shapeshifter. It began as a solo outlet for Jilian Medford, but then expanded into a trio. However, the trio dissolved on account of Medford’s misogynistic bandmates. Now Medford’s back on her own, and Ian Sweet is going through another transformation. Crush Crusher, her latest LP, is a foray into dream pop that sees Medford floating around the shadows musically.
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades + Yonder Mountain String Band
The Sylvee, March 9
Among Wisconsin’s dedicated music fans, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades need no introduction. The Stevens Point-bred Americana quintet are a consistent draw in the state and have an ever-expanding national fanbase. And for more than 20 years, Yonder Mountain String Band has been at the forefront of the progressive bluegrass movement, becoming a can’t miss live act in the process.
All Them Witches
High Noon Saloon, March 10
If only Tony Cool Ice could speed up his plan to decriminalize marijuana to meet these stoner rock scions. Despite hailing from America’s country music capital, All Them Witches are closer in spirit to Queens of the Stone Age than anything else Nashville is pumping out right now. The trio’s latest, ATW, is full of the kind of slow-burning, gauzy psychedelia that begs to be listened to through a cloud of smoke. California’s awesomely named punks Plague Vendor will open.
Liz Cooper & the Stampede
High Noon Saloon, March 13
If you haven’t heard Liz Cooper & the Stampede’s debut album, Window Flowers, I suggest you rectify that immediately. The Nashville natives play a form of Americana that leans heavily on psychedelic influences, calling to mind the hazy acid folk of Susto. But it’s Cooper’s guitar work that’s her real secret weapon. The former college golfer knows her way around a six-string as she does a six iron, and it shows in her swirling musicality.
Them Coulee Boys
High Noon Saloon, March 14
Hailing from the Coulee region of western Wisconsin, brothers Soren and Jens Staff grew up on the edge — both of the state and of any one genre of music. Their band, Them Coulee Boys, is ostensibly alt-folk, but their influences are wide-ranging, from Trampled by Turtles to Titus Andronicus. Them Coulee Boys aren’t quite folk, bluegrass, or punk, but rather an unholy alliance between all three that must be experienced live to be fully understood. And speaking of Trampled by Turtles, that band’s own Dave Simonett produced the Coulees’ forthcoming third album.
Wet + Kilo Kish
Majestic Theatre, March 14
Wet might be the only artists on this list with a cosign from America’s first family. I’m talking, of course, about the Kardashians. Kelly Zutrau’s indie R&B project has popped up everywhere from the famous sisters’ Instagrams to The New Yorker, which tagged Wet the “future of pop.” They’ll be joined by here by Kilo Kish, an upstart vocalist who you might know from some very high profile features, including work with Vince Staples, Childish Gambino and Gorillaz. If Damon Albarn wants you on a song, you must be good.
Rock ’n Roll High School: A Tribute to Punk
Majestic Theatre, March 15
With a name cribbed from the classic Ramones-featuring film, this is sure to be a punk rock free for all. Six Wisconsin bands will perform tribute sets to genre legends, from radio friendly unit shifters to beloved cult acts. The lineup will include Help Desk as Blink-182, Avenues as Operation Ivy, Venus in Furs as The Misfits, The Moguls as Green Day, Start From Scratch as the Ramones, and Tugg as Rancid. And if Help Desk doesn’t play that one song about fucking a dog, this Blink superfan is going to lose it.
The Punch Brothers
Orpheum Theater, March 21
Chris Thile is a modern renaissance man. In addition to being a virtuosically talented musician, the Punch Brothers’ fearless leader also hosts the long-running NPR program A Prairie Home Companion (renamed Live From Here). In addition, he appeared in and contributed music to The Coen Brothers’ criminally underrated masterpiece Inside Llewyn Davis. And to top it all off, The Punch Brothers’ most recent album, last year’s All Ashore, just took home a Grammy for Best Folk Album. If none of that sold you, here’s the band’s bluegrass cover of The Strokes’ “Reptilia,” which dare I say is better than the original.
The Sylvee, March 22
While fellow previewees The Mountain Goats have already attested to Denton, Texas’s best death metal band, that same city’s best country singer is undeniably Cody Jinks. And oddly enough, Jinks began his musical journey in a thrash metal outfit called Unchecked Aggression before rediscovering the classic country he grew up on. Now Jinks specializes in a hard-living brand of lyricism influenced in equal part by metal and psychedelia. His latest, Lifers, was released on Rounder Records last year.
Majestic Theatre, March 22
Mason Jennings carries on folk music’s longstanding tradition of having lived in a bunch of different places across the country. Born in Hawaii, raised in Pittsburgh, based in Minneapolis, Jennings is as prolific is he is well-traveled. He’s released 14 albums, and his latest — 2018’s Songs from When We Met — is about newfound love, depression and agoraphobia.
The Sylvee, March 27
As the former frontwoman of Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis has been an indie rock mainstay for two decades. But perhaps the defining aspect of Lewis’ career is her work as a solo artist, where she’s been effortlessly able to straddle the worlds of pop and Americana. She’s the closest thing contemporary rock has to Stevie Nicks. (But the last time I checked IMDb, Stevie didn’t co-star in the feature-length Nintendo ad The Wizard alongside Fred Savage.) Her latest, On the Line, will drop a few days before this show.
Deafheaven + Baroness
The Sylvee, March 30
When two titans of their genre book a tour together, it’s always a noteworthy affair. But that goes doubly so when they are Deafheaven and Baroness. The former: a Grammy-nominated post-metal juggernaut that finds transcendent beauty in guttural shrieks. The latter: an endlessly inventive sludge metal crew that literally escaped death a few years back in a harrowing bus crash. Together, they represent the best of a genre that’s constantly pushing its own limits. And I’ve personally seen Deafheaven thrice, so let me tell you: This is very much it, chief.
Mumford & Sons
Kohl Center, March 30
Vest jokes aside, Mumford & Sons are the first family of the folk revival movement. The British quartet has only released four albums, but they’ve sold millions of copies of those four albums. In the process, they’ve become unassuming stars. In fact, to bring this preview full circle, Marcus Mumford actually collaborated with Chris Thile on the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack, a film in which his wife Carey Mulligan starred. And here Mumford and his Sons appear with another monster of folk, Cat Power. The nom-de-plume of singer-songwriter Chan Marshall recently released Wanderer, her first album in six years.
Weezer + Pixies
Coliseum at Alliant Energy Center, March 31
This lineup is straight out of the Empire Records soundtrack. Geek rock icons Weezer are bonafide pop stars again, thanks to their meta cover of Toto’s “Africa.” Pixies, meanwhile, are critically revered alternative legends, with their jagged, noisy power pop serving as a roadmap to bands like Nirvana, Radiohead and, yes, Weezer. Rounding out this exercise in “Huh?” will be English rockers Basement, who began life in the world of post-hardcore before streamlining into a more Jimmy Eat World-esque brand of alt-rock.
The Sylvee, April 3
Mitski Miyawaki is an enigma. At once intensely personal and maddeningly vague, she’s the poet laureate for a generation that communicates almost exclusively through depression tweets. Mitski is a master at making that vagueness feel profound, in a sense that not knowing itself can be a crushing feeling. Her third album, last year’s Be the Cowboy, sees Mitski take her introspection in a buzzier, slightly more upbeat direction than you’d expect. She’ll be joined here by Jay Som, Los Angeles-based dream pop artist who marries slick production values with heart-on-sleeve vulnerability (which makes perfect sense for someone with a Death Cab tattoo).
Majestic Theatre, April 4
Despite being a folk trio (with no drummer), Caamp can at times sound huge. A lot of that has to do with their instrumentation. Delicate, folksy whispers transform into driving bluegrass, often within the same measure. And Taylor Meier’s raspy vocals give the band an added edge — even at their most gentle, Caamp can still cut deep. They most recently released dual EPs, Boys (Side A) and (Side B), last year.
Bad Bad Hats
High Noon Saloon, April 5
From The Replacements and Hüsker Dü to The Hold Steady, there are tons of great indie rock bands with roots in the Twin Cities. One of the latest is Bad Bad Hats. The Minneapolis-based trio specializes in a totally ’90s brand of music, marrying pop punk to lo-fi slacker rock. Along for the ride here is dueling support from Jessica Manning and Con Davidson.
Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers
Majestic Theatre, April 6
The term “force of nature” comes to mind when I think of Laura Jane Grace. Sure, I’m a bit biased, seeing as I’ve written here before about my love for Against Me!, but there’s really no other way to describe the iconic musician. As leader of the long-running Florida band, Grace is an outspoken, often hilarious voice not just in punk rock, but in the music community at large. Last year she released Bought to Rot — ostensibly her solo debut — with a band she’s called The Devouring Mothers. Part-Tom Petty, part-Clash and all-Grace, Bought to Rot just might be the best Against Me! album in years.
High Noon Saloon, April 6
“Madison done changed me,” Rich Robbins emphatically raps in his song “Growing Pains.” It’s a nod not just to the years the Chicago rapper spent at UW, but the years he spent after, finding his artistic voice. It seems to have paid off, as Robbins’ sophomore album, Red Butterfly, is a confident, immersive experience that showcases the artist’s talent not just as a rapper but as a singer as well. This show also features Son! and Broadway Muse.
High Noon Saloon, April 7
Some of us wish to have the kind of job security Michael Benjamin Lerner does. The musician otherwise known as Telekinesis has been recording pitch-perfect power pop albums for indie giant Merge Records since he was 22. Now 32, the Seattle native just released his fifth Telekinesis album, Effluxion, which is a no-frills approach to the genre in the same vein as his own 2011 banger, 12 Desperate Straight Lines.
Durand Jones & the Indications
High Noon Saloon, April 10
File this one under “baby-makin’ music.” The Bloomington, Indiana-based Durand Jones and his band, The Indications, play a string-infused brand of soul right out of the 1970s, citing Curtis Mayfield and Jackie Wilson as influences. Both ethereal and funky, this is the kind of music that will make you check the birth records for exactly nine months after this show. Their latest LP, American Love Call, was released today via indie tastemaker Dead Oceans.
High Noon Saloon, April 11
As a member of both influential ’90s alt-rockers Helium and Carrie Brownstein’s supergroup Wild Flag, Mary Timony is practically indie royalty. But with her own Ex Hex, Timony really lets loose, playing a turbocharged form of power-pop-punk that sounds like Big Star on speed. The band’s much anticipated sophomore album, It’s Real, is due out on March 22. This show features support from Moaning and Madison’s own garage punks Proud Parents, who just released a killer, self-titled album of their own on local imprint Dirtnap Records.
High Noon Saloon, April 12
Being a Madison-based band, there are usually tons of opportunities to catch Seasaw live. But the duo of Eve Wilczewski and Meg Golz is talented enough that every time they do, it’s always noteworthy. The Freeport, Illinois-bred indie pop act released their third album, Big Dogs, last year, and it’s worth checking out for the music videos alone. Fellow local luminaries Chris Koza and Oh My Love will open.
High Noon Saloon, April 17
Since forming Girlpool as teenagers, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad have specialized in a kind of punk anthem that’s both low-key and intense. But the duo has gone through several transformations over the past couple years. For one, they now tour as a full band, further expanding Girlpool’s sound. And for another, Tucker recently transitioned, and the change in register makes their voice sound more assured and robust alongside Tividad’s. Check out the band’s growth on these two new tracks released last year.
Foxing + Now, Now
High Noon Saloon, April 18
There’s no other way to describe Foxing’s 2018 album, Nearer My God, than as a shot at immortality. The St. Louis emo revival heroes stepped further outside of the box, concocting an ambitious, kaleidoscopic effort that’s equal parts Radiohead, At the Drive-In and Frank Ocean. It was my favorite album of last year, and I’m more than happy to die on that hill. And for a fun little six degrees of separation, Nearer My God was produced by former Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla, who also signed Minnesotan duo Now, Now to his Trans- Records imprint. Saved, their dreamy third album, was released last year.
The Sylvee, April 26
Remember what I said earlier about Twin Cities indie rock bands? Hippo Campus has been one of the more successful acts to emerge from the T.C. in recent years, and rightfully so. The St. Paul-based group formed at a high school for the arts, which is unsurprising given the easy mastery they all seem to have of their respective instruments. The result is an airtight, fluid brand of indie pop that seems to hang in the air before heading straight for your ears. Upstart pop star Samia will open.
Majestic Theatre, April 26
The connection may not be direct, by you’ve got Jay Farrar to thank in part for A Star is Born. Without Farrar’s massively influential output with Uncle Tupelo and his subsequent, rootsier recordings with Son Volt, Bradley Cooper’s country rock star Jackson Maine likely would have been a yarbling grunge washout. Farrar helped spearhead an Americana movement that’s still growing. And with his gruff, Midwestern twang and picaresque lyrics, Farrar and Son Volt are still at its forefront. Son Volt’s latest, Notes of Blue, is straight-up classic country, and their forthcoming Union is likely to follow suit.
Cave Curse + Wash
High Noon Saloon, April 28
Set aside a mere $7 and treat yourself to a set featuring two of the 608’s best alt-rock bands. Bobby Hussy’s synth-slingers Cave Curse project will be celebrating the release of a new 7-inch, while rising shoegazers Wash will co-headline (and further add proof as to their status as one of Madison’s most exciting new bands). Additional support comes from Genau and Tarek Sabbar.
Majestic Theatre, April 30
There aren’t a ton of rock bands that you could realistically call “dangerous,” but Atlanta’s Black Lips are one of the few who deserve it. The garage punk hellraisers have a reputation for wild, drunken live shows, adding that long-gone sense of clear and present danger to rock ‘n’ roll. They’re quite prolific, too. Since 2003, Black Lips have released eight full-length albums and nine split EPs. Perhaps LP9, whenever it comes, will feature the band’s longtime friend Kesha.
The Sylvee, April 30
A true icon, Neko Case is one of the most prolific and celebrated musicians in contemporary rock. So much so, in fact, that an entire country has adopted her. Through both her work as a solo artist and as a longtime member of Canadian indie collective The New Pornographers, the Virginia-native Case is considered an “honorary Canadian” by our neighbors to the north. Ideally it’s a joint-custody-type deal, because Case is truly an American treasure. She’s crafted some of the finest Americana-pop-rock songs this side of Lake Superior. Shannon Shaw will open this show; she’s the leader of Bay Area garage rockers Shannon and the Clams.
Strand of Oaks
High Noon Saloon, May 2
Like many people growing up in hoosier country, Timothy Showalter initially wanted to be a basketball player. But despite ball being life, his own life had other plans. Now Showalter records music as Strand of Oaks, a folk/rock hybrid that serves as the vehicle for his own hazy, wistful brand of storytelling. Strand of Oaks recently dropped “Ruby,” from their forthcoming seventh album Eraserland, which Showalter calls the “happiest song I’ve ever written.” Weird flex, but OK…
Shovels & Rope + Frank Turner
The Sylvee, May 5
When you’re at this show, you’re family. Literally so in the case of Shovels & Rope, which is comprised of husband and wife Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. They perform an infectious brand of stomp-folk propelled by Hearst’s energetic drumming, giving their sound over more to rock than folk. Frank Turner, on the other hand, has a way of making audiences feel like family. The avuncular Englishman is an icon of the folk-punk scene, where he and his band The Sleeping Souls have developed a reputation as one of the hardest touring bands in the business. Wisconsin’s country rock wunderkind Trapper Schoepp opens this one.
Barrymore Theatre, May 8
Lucius is an interesting force in music. The four-piece band has a country twang evident in their indie pop, giving them the unique ability to straddle two worlds at once. To illustrate, dueling lead singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig have appeared on multiple tracks by both San Fermin and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, two seemingly different artists to whom Lucius serves as a connective thread. Rounding out the bill is Pure Bathing Culture, a critically-acclaimed Portland-based duo whom The Guardian described as a “smile set to music.”
Majestic Theatre, May 11
It makes perfect sense that Twin Peaks shares its name with an iconic David Lynch project, because they’re both weird as shit. The Chicago quintet is half “power chord factory” and half winsome indie pop, as raucous as they are affecting. And they’ll be sharing this bill with opener Post Animal, a trippy, chugging rock throwback that represents the missing link between Black Sabbath and Tame Impala.
The Mountain Goats
Majestic Theatre, May 14
John Darnielle has always been a storyteller first. The Mountain Goats’ albums often play like novels, filled with intimate, literary detail. And the subject matter is ever-changing. From death metal to pro wrestling to child abuse, Darnielle has an innate ability to paint a full, engaging picture of whatever he chooses. The prolific band’s 17th(!) album, In League with Dragons, is due out in April and is inspired heavily by Dungeons and Dragons (as was his first actual novel, 2014’s Wolf in White Van). Roll for initiative, music lovers.
The Sylvee, May 18
Alongside Bon Iver and Garbage, Violent Femmes comprise the holy trinity of Wisconsin music. The folk punk trio began their career busking on the streets of Milwaukee nearly 40 years ago, but have over time become alternative icons. You’d be hard-pressed to to find someone (especially in the Badger State) who couldn’t pick out their signature tune, “Blister in the Sun,” from the opening guitar plucks.
Brat Fest, May 24
I’m just here for the Shrek Mob.